crossing the river
i’m worried about what writing fixes in time, what it means to write about the unresolved past and future, what to do with the unsayable.
i saw eli clare this week, and in a group over lunch where i fear i took up a lot of discussion space, he talked about writing and its relationship to growing up in a rural town—how there’s no way to anonymize people or places, how your work will never even end up there. writing after being rural relies on a lack of access to hide where you are now, relies on knowing that changing means above all else leaving people you love behind—as clare put it, seeing those you love spread out in a comet trail behind you.
i think about this tumblr a lot, how it opened up so many relationships for me, how i met many people in my life who i love hard through it. certainly as many people as i love in madison. but the opening up i do here about my family and my life is predicated on the idea that my family and their peers will never read it.
i am banking on a basic privilege here: internet access. my parents have never had consistent, speedy internet services. broadband doesn’t cross the bridge that leads to our house. satellite internet is spotty and too expensive. i rely on that lack of access to interact with my networks on tumblr and elsewhere on the internet. but i can’t help but know how fucked up that is.
when i was a first year in college, i changed my myspace page to say i was a lesbian in “dickhater, ga.”* in november, my mom called me and confronted me about it. a woman at our church whose daughter was also queer had been researching her friends on her new internet connection, because her daughter had forgotten to log out of myspace before she went back to college. the fellow church member had saw that her daughter listed herself as a lesbian and that we were friends.
my mother, however, saw this reification of my lesbian identity as a rejection of my home rhetorical space that thrives on the open secret and a symptom of my newly constant internet access. after all, she had cancelled our dialup after she initially learned i had a myspace account. “i didn’t send you away to college so that you could become a lesbian,” she said coldly. “you can’t put things like that up on the internet for everyone to see.” there was a southern rural understanding of privacy incongruent with having a myspace page, much less one that says you’re lesbian. i was angrily hunched outside of walters, kicking the thick magnolia leaves that crowded the pathway like they did my uncle’s driveway. i don’t remember how i responded to my mother. i wrote a blog post about it on my myspace but i deleted my myspace profile in 2008.
at lunch this wednesday, eli clare told us about how his mother, a community college composition teacher, begged to read his work (his senior thesis? his mfa collection? i’m not sure) over and over. he told her she wouldn’t like it, that it was about his remembrance of their shared past. she scolded him and asked to read it anyway, and he sent it to her. she never responded to his work or asked to read anything else.
i feel like this is why i share so little with my parents but write so much and thus reveal so much about who i am and where i come from. if i ever told my mother how i experienced growing up in our home, i imagine her response would be the same as eli’s mother’s—silence. the few ventures i’ve made in that regard have ended that way already. what would it mean to piece together what i remember of ex-gay therapy and confront her with that? my father has such a revisionist history of who i am that i doubt my narrative would even remotely match his. the one time he recalled a common memory we shared—me being pelted with insults in the car rider line my last day of my first year of high school as i kissed my girlfriend for what would be the last time before i clambered into the passenger seat of his pick up truck—he claimed that i was intentionally trying to shame our family and sully his parenting by daring to be queer in public. he used this memory as evidence that my transness was about my incorrigible desire to challenge his parental authority.
i don’t know what ot do with this disconnect brought about by both material access and distorted memory. i just don’t know. and i feel like writing about memories like the one i just did freeze them and my parents in time, present them to a simultaneously limited and infinite audience without the chance for them to respond. something just feels fucked about that, even if their own memories and actions are equally fucked.
eli clare talked extensively about getting an mfa rather than a phd of some sort. i wonder if the same reasons, the same circumstances, and many of the same questions and problems of access are why i did the opposite. i wonder why i chose to go into a path where writing about queerness isn’t writing about my life experience as such—was it an unwillingness to open myself up to my own family, to hold them accountable and also have them hold me accountable for the choices we all made? i wonder if i will ask myself these questions for the rest of my life.